Burn Notice: “Lesser Evil”


I’m not sure what to say about tonight’s season finale. It did everything Burn Notice does well, only bigger. Much, much, BIGGER. Two big car chases, bombs and fireballs, and the biggest blowup to Michael’s situation we’ve seen since the season one finale made this the most packed hour I can recall. Despite all the action, there was still time for humor and a lot of real emotion, making the long wait until June and new episodes that much more of a drag.

Whereas last week was so much fun because Jay Karnes played such a compelling and capable villain, this week was exciting because Michael Shanks played such a compelling and capable client. It’s a real shame we’ve seen the last of Victor.

Interestingly enough, I don’t think that about Carla. When Fi put that bullet in her, I actually said “about goddamn time” out loud. It’s a credit to Tricia Helfer’s performance of a character whose time on screen had dipped of late that I was so happy to see her killed. She was ruthless, but in a cold, calculating, banal way. She needed to be killed, and I think it’s appropriate that Fi got to pull the trigger. I would have thought it equally appropriate had Sam done it, in that while she was Michael’s and Victor’s nemesis, it was because Michael still had his friends and family that he had not turned into Victor. The only more satisfying triggerman would have been Madeline.

In the opening, Carla tried again to pull Michael closer into her web, first by sharing with him a taste of the spy-high-life and then by confiding that she’d been burned herself. What the serpent doesn’t realize is that saying it too has known cold will not entice anyone to share their warmth.

Events traveled unusual trajectories tonight, too. Madeline’s big emotional scenes were with Sam, not Michael. In fact, she shared no screen time with Michael at all, but might have delivered her most gut wrenching scene of the series in the car with Sam:

I take care of myself. And you go save my son. They sent men to me with guns, Sam. God knows what they sent to him. Listen, the one thing a woman my age can do in Miami is blend in. If they can pick me up out of 10,000 other 60-something women with bleached-blond hair I guess I’m done for, huh? Can you find him?

Her house was pretty well trashed by the little fireball Sam put together, her son is in grave danger, and she knows she’s a target. And like any good mother, all she cares about is her child.

Sam only has three short scenes with Michael, spending much of Act 1, all of Act 2, and most of Act 3 with Madeline. Even when Sam gets back in the game, it’s in tandem with Fiona for their support operation at the marina. Fiona gets a little more time with Michael, but also far less than usual.

By pulling Michael away from his family – Madeline, Sam, and Fiona – and putting him with Victor for the majority of the episode, it highlights how important Michael’s family is to his life and success at this point in his evolution. Madeline’s sacrifice and Sam and Fiona’s willingness to break their promise to him in order to better help him save his life.

Contrast with Victor. This insane, manic, jittery agonist has always seemed opposed to Michael, in both goals and temperment. Turns out he’s just Michael with his support system forcefully ripped from him. Had Carla taken everyone from Michael, we know who he’d be.

Michael’s final, magnificent plunge from the helicopter…so many flashes and feelings come to me from that. I was going to list film moments it reminded me of but I’ll leave that as an exercise for comments, I think.

It is a literal leap of faith: from that height, Michael knows his impact is going to be dicey. He mitigates and survives it fine, but he could as easily have broken his legs, leaving him two or three miles from shore and unable to swim. Still he jumps. It is a metaphoric leap of faith: he realizes Management isn’t lying, they have been protecting Michael from (most of) his many enemies. It is a baptism: he is still burned, but no longer a pawn in someone else’s game.

When Michael makes that jump, he changes everything.

Of course before that jump, he had to pull that trigger. A brother-in-arms, a kindred spirit, Victor went from enemy to friend quickly and for good reason. I don’t think Michael’s going to rest easy until some justice is served on the Machine.

Some final thoughts

I approached this review a bit differently because the episode was so unusual. The action and humor were amped up to a pace the show has never tried to maintain for a full hour and there was literally too much to capture. Sam’s count of great lines – normally a bellweather for the fun of an episode – were matched by Victor’s, Fiona’s, even Madeline’s. The lessons in spycraft were not just delivered in Michael’s cool voiceover, but in the heat of battle.

The sad truth about Victor and the love of Michael’s family for him coursed through each second of the hour. Still, some things can’t go unnoted.

  • “That’s enough roughhousing, boys!”
    “It’s always fun until someone gets hurt.”
  • “Why is your curiosity more important than my nap?”
  • “Give him some air. See what else you can get out of him. Rub his belly if you need to.”
  • “Because it’s a magical kingdom with lots of witnesses and great security.”
  • “Four? That seems high. Oh come on! You’re counting earlier with the chair.”
  • Victor: The Client.
  • Michael just needed a bow and arrow to complete the Duke boys homage in the Charger.
  • “Do you want a beer?”
    “No Madeline, I don’t want a beer.”
    “This is serious.”
  • Two carbombs?!? Tim Matheson must have broken the bank directing this one.
  • “You think you’ve ben under our thumb? You’ve been under our protection.”

What the hell did everyone else think?